"So your a private detective. I thought private detectives only came from books."
Humphrey Bogart is named by the American Film Institute as the greatest actor of all-time. He's starred in many films worthy of that title, such as Key Largo, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon, and Casablanca. The Big Sleep, however, isn't to worthy.
Bogart plays a private detective named Philip Marlowe who is called by a General (Charles Waldron) to track down a blackmailer who is trying to run down the General's daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers). When the accused blackmailer, Arthur Geiger (Theodore von Eitz), is murdered, Marlow has to think fast in order to solve this case.
The Big Sleep also stars Lauren Bacall as the General's older sister Vivian, who's more suspicious than she looks and John Ridgely as Eddie Mars, a gambling man who might be part of the murder plot.
Don't get me wrong. Humphrey Bogart is one of my all-time favorite actors. In The Big Sleep, he's just as great as ever. His toughness and powerhouse voice dominates the screen and shows how rare great talent can be today. Lauren Bacall, on the other hand, is attractive and stunning in her role. Put the two together and fireworks explode. The best scenes in The Big Sleep are definitely the ones between Bogart and Bacall due to the memorable dialogue and excellent chemistry.
Max Steiner provides the score for The Big Sleep, and like his score in Key Largo, it manages to provide loads of chills and suspense, but, it's far from his best score. That title still remains Gone with the Wind.
The black-and-white cinematography is simply stunning. If you want to make a good film-noir, it has to be in black-and-white, and because of that, many shots in The Big Sleep are jaw-dropping, creepy, and downright thrilling.
But, why do I give it a low score? Well, the biggest problem with The Big Sleep is the story. It's too confusing. When Bogart keeps talking about people like Carmen, Brody, and Agnus, it left me clueless. I didn't know old films can be that complicated. The film was based on a book, and even the author, Raymond Chandler, was confused by the plot as well. Buddy, you wrote the book, you have to know at least something. Also, the film was known for having a long and troubled production schedule, and there were many reshoots made in order to add tension between Bogart and Bacall. Many of the scenes already filmed, such as a scene where a cop explains the plot, was cut. If that scene was kept in, I might have given it a higher score.
The Big Sleep was directed by Howard Hawks, who's known for making wonderful classics, such as Bringing Up Baby, Rio Bravo, and Sergeant York. The Big Sleep, on the other hand, is a mixed bag, with a confusing plot and some explanation scenes cut. But on the other hand, the film has excellent chemistry between Bogart and Bacall and features excellent cinematography. If you can get past the confusing story, then you might get more out of The Big Sleep than I did. But as for me, I was a bit disappointed.